The Spookiest Story in Vietnam: the AC-47 Gunship

Known variously as Puff the Magic Dragon, Dragonships, or just Spooky, the AC-47 gunship, with its broadside battery of GE miniguns, was a sight to behold.

In 1965 with the grunts on the ground needing as much persistent close-in air support as could be spared, the Air Force went about converting a handful of World War II-era C-47 transports into lead-slinging death dealers by attaching a number of General Electric GAU-2/M134 miniguns arranged to fire through the left-hand side of the plane at a target below.

By going into a pylon turn, which pointed the wingtip towards the target, the crew could circle a kill zone below while its three miniguns zipped 2,000 rounds per minute of 7.62 mm NATO (each) into the hapless enemy contact.

To maximize effectiveness and minimize risk to the gunships, they typically flew at night with call signs Spooky and Puff, each for obvious reasons. Only about 50 aircraft were converted and a dozen of these, as a testament to their hard use, were lost in combat.

It was said that no village or hamlet under Spooky’s protection was ever lost to the enemy.

We, combat Marines, used Spooky often in the Arizona Territory around the tet offense in the darkness of the night when we were faced with the enemy in front of us.  We would call in a kill zone and Spooky would show up with its flares and its firepower and eliminate the threat.